Should ICE Bow to Churches That Serve as Illegal Boarding Houses?



U.S. churches may be attracting fewer people in the pews, but their sanctuary business is blessed with illegal aliens moving into their basements.

A group of Central American migrants has resided for nearly three years inside two Austin, Texas, churches. In North Carolina, a Guatemalan national in the U.S. illegally since 1994 just marked her second year ensconced at a “sanctuary” church. And other churches from Boston to Baltimore are sheltering border jumpers and visa overstays.

The case of Juana Tobar Ortega, the aforementioned Guatemalan, illustrates how religious groups furnish room, board and a smorgasbord of services to a growing flock of illegal aliens in open defiance of U.S. immigration laws.

Before holing up at Greensboro’s St. Barnabas Church, the 46-year-old Ortega had never set foot in the building. Since she first began hiding from immigration officials in the church basement, Ortega has “received extensive access to the legal system [though she]has no lawful basis to remain in the country,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said. Three immigration attorneys have provided more than $20,000 in legal services on her behalf.

“We need to violate the law in order to do the right thing,” Ortega says.

Clearly, Ortega has violated U.S. immigration law, though she’s a little hazy on what she means by doing “the right thing.” A key tenet of civil disobedience is accepting the consequences of violating the law in order to draw attention to the alleged immorality undergirding it. But Ortega’s just an illegal alien who got caught and doesn’t like the fact that her removal would be both lawful and completely moral.

Though Texas and North Carolina outlaw so-called sanctuary cities, churches enjoy a de facto dispensation to offer extended-stay lodging to migrants. The wayfaring aliens are shielded by an ICE policy that discourages federal agents from making arrests inside “sensitive” locations, which include churches, hospitals and schools, except in exigent circumstances.

Because American religious institutions are subject only to very limited government regulation, U.S. law enforcement agencies are loathe to force entry into places of worship (even though no law prohibits them from doing so when a criminal is hiding in a church).

In this quasi-legal vacuum, faith-based sanctuaries have more than doubled to some 800 during the past three years.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, believes churches have an obligation to protect illegal aliens.

“Until we accomplish lasting, comprehensive immigration reform, churches have every right to provide a safe haven for hard-working, God-fearing individuals and families not involved in nefarious activities, regardless of immigration status,” Rodriguez says.

Nice try, reverend. As FAIR has noted, harboring illegal aliens is a federal crime – and there are no exceptions for the clergy.

As for separation of church and state concerns, they only seem to bother modern religious institutions when the Constitution interferes with their social justice agenda. Local governments across the country allocate funds for church-based groups that give shelter and legal services to illegal aliens, even in states with anti-sanctuary laws. Yet none of these institutions refuse such funds on separation of church and state grounds.

Deep in the heart of Texas, the city of San Antonio engages in such collusion by annually funneling tax dollars to faith-based groups that aid and shelter illegal aliens.

Last year, the state sued the city and its police chief for releasing a dozen illegal aliens ensnared in a human smuggling operation. Holding ICE agents at bay, the chief handed the migrants over to Catholic Charities. They haven’t been seen since.

About Author

avatar

Bob Dane, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)'s Executive Director, has been with FAIR since 2006. His deep belief is that immigration is the most transformational determinant of where we are heading as a nation and that our policies must be reformed in the public interest. Over many years on thousands of radio, TV and print interviews, Bob has made the case that unless immigration is regulated and sensibly reduced, it will be difficult for America to reduce unemployment, increase wages, improve health care and education and heighten national security. Prior to joining FAIR, Bob spent twenty years in network radio, marketing and communications after an earlier career in policy and budgeting within the Reagan Administration. Bob has a degree from George Mason University in Public Administration and Management.

8 Comments

  1. avatar
    Patrick Sims on

    Churches had a place providing sanctuary when people were persecuted for no reason. Sanctuary is not for people breaking the law, and any church helping keep people from justice should be ashamed and shamed by those around it.

  2. avatar

    There’s Plenty of Trump Supporters in Christian Churches

    That’s Trump Base Country. Why is the Trump Christian congregation contradicted by its Pastors and leaders to be Open Border Party (OBP) slanted? Its time to reduce the church gifts to the churches that don’t support its congregation. I quit a church because they ignored population control per Noah’s Ark in the Bible….ya can’t kill off the animals and have too much population doing the killing at the same time, or you’re a hypocrite. I’m not for drastic depopulation, but we must stop killing off God’s animals too…the Orcas babies are all dead in Seattle from water pollution caused by sewage…

    • avatar
      Patrick Sims on

      Population control per Noah was to go forth and multiply. Don’t expect a bible believing church to say that you can only have 2 babies per family or less. That is man-made garbage, just like that poisoning the land, water and air.

  3. avatar

    What part about the word ‘illegal’ do you not understand? It’s a true slap in the face to all who’ve done it by the book. Get them out NOW! They cost many more Billions than the border wall, and show nothing other than a continued drain on OUR GOVERNMENT!

  4. avatar

    Note that the Rev. Rodriquez says that churches will keep doing this “until we accomplish lasting, comprehensive immigration reform”. The magical phrase that every open borders advocate puts forth when asked what the solution to our immigration crisis is, and the presence of 22 million illegals in the country. Of course they are never asked exactly what that means, but it’s just code for a complete amnesty for every illegal here. Which is no solution at all but is guaranteed to make the problem far worse. As anyone who wasn’t born yesterday knows, rewarding bad behavior means it will be repeated.

    Donna Brazile was on Fox a couple nights ago bashing Trump for bashing McCain. A lot of people pointed out that she was bashing McCain not that long ago herself. It was McCain and Hillary who actively pushed for the toppling of the Khaddafi government in Libya which did nothing but make that country a haven for terrorist organizations. It’s similar to Obama declaring a crisis on the southern border a few years ago, and taking virtually the same actions as Trump is now, and then the numbers were a fraction of what is happening now. But now according to the Democrats there is NO crisis. They don’t care about the country, just bashing Trump.

  5. avatar

    As long as these people and states provide sanctuary for illegals they will continue to come and invade our country. They need to be arrested and tried for treason. There are plenty of good hard working American who need help. God said to take care of your house first. Get it in order. So all of these people have committed a crime and deserve to be aresste